The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal to downlist the American burying beetle from “endangered” to “threatened.” KGOU's Katelyn Howard and Journal Record editor Russell Ray discuss how the proposal plays into a decades-long debate between the oil industry and conservationists.
Katelyn Howard: This is the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about businesses in Oklahoma. I'm Katelyn Howard, and joining me is Russell Ray, editor of The Journal Record. Today I'd like to talk about an article from your reporter Daisy Grant related to the American burying beetle, an endangered species that oilmen in Oklahoma have to be cautious of before starting any projects. This shiny, orange spotted beetle is about an inch and a half long and lives for about a year. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's website says the insect recycles carcasses, which returns beneficial nutrients to the soil. It's also an indicator species, meaning it signals whether or not its environment is healthy. Daisy writes that last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal to downlist the American burying beetle from “endangered” to “threatened.” This proposal highlights a decades long tug of war between the oil and gas industry and conservationists regarding the insects' status. Can you tell us more about the proposal?
Russell Ray: Yes, Katelyn. The endangered designation of the beetle has delayed the recovery of valuable oil and gas production in the state for about 30 years. If it is approved, the downlisting would remove costly permitting requirements for Oklahoma oil and gas producers. Now right now, the proposal is in a 60 day public comment period. After that, the agency will make a final decision, and that decision must be approved by the U.S. Department of Interior. And that's a process that could take about a year.
Howard: And the beetle’s status has been contested ever since the agency first listed it as endangered in 1989.
Ray: Yes. The designation has been consistently a question. It was originally found in 35 states. The beetle feeds on the rotting flesh of dead animals. It's a lovely little bug. And it's been found in other states including Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska, Ohio, Massachusetts, South Dakota and Rhode Island.
Howard: The oil and gas industry favors this proposal, saying that the downlisting of the beetle will reduce the cost of drilling in areas where profit margins are thin.
Ray: That's right. One company told us they spent $10 million to relocate 119 beetles. So that translated to $100,000 per beetle. So oil and gas producers tell us the downlisting from “endangered” to “threatened” will lead to tremendous savings for the state's biggest industry. In Oklahoma, oil and gas production translates to more jobs and more state revenues for public services including education and health care.
Howard: Over the years, oilmen in Oklahoma have tried to steer clear of killing these beetles while developing land since it could potentially lead to government penalties.
Ray: That's right, yes. The permitting process to protect the beetle is very time consuming. A company must survey the land affecting the beetles' habitat and then take mitigation measures. That could include relocating the beetle or buying credits with a conservation bank.
Howard: In Daisy's article, some conservationists say that the beetle is at serious risk of extinction in Oklahoma and view the proposal as catering to the oil and gas industry.
Ray: Well clearly the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service disagrees and has collected enough evidence to say populations of the bug have been growing. And as a result, the beetle no longer meets the criteria required for endangered status, according to fish and wildlife experts.
Howard: Russell Ray is editor of The Journal Record. It was great to have you here today, Russell.
Ray: My pleasure, Katelyn. Thank you.
Howard: KGOU and The Journal Record collaborate each week on the Business Intelligence Report. You can follow us both on social media. We're on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter: @journalrecord and @kgounews. You'll find links to the stories we discussed during this episode at JournalRecord.com. And this conversation, along with previous episodes of the Business Intelligence Report, are available on our website, KGOU.org. While you're there, you can check out other features and podcasts produced by KGOU and our StateImpact Reporting team. This includes the latest Capitol Insider report where House Minority Leader Emily Virgin talks about the Democratic budget proposal for the coming year. For KGOU and the Business Intelligence Report, I'm Katelyn Howard.
The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.
As a community-supported news organization, KGOU relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.